THE VICAR

2019-10-19

THE VICAR

Yes. It is our burial place. Only place for one left. For me.
It was supposed to be for my older brother, but they buried him at Brothers Capuchins monastery.
They did not even inform us. We found out about it by accident.
In fact, he died for the world a long time ago.
He was much older than I was. And such learned one.
He became a priest just before the war.
We were so proud when he was back after ordination and got a vicar position here.
Just imagine! A priest in the family!
It was a terrible experience when he gave up being a priest soon after the war.
Everything because of these Jews!
I was a young lad, but I remember everything.
There were quite a lot of them here before the war. Both rich and poor.
We lived together like neighbors next door.
They bothered nobody. They had their little synagogue.
Our vicar even often discussed it with their rabbi, although the parson was not very happy with it. Nobody saw the poor because they were just like us. But if they were rich, so you could see it.
One could also earn a little each Saturday because they were not allowed to do anything.
The Communists? Yes. There were several among them. Their families were unhappy because of this. Not enough that they rejected their religion. They did not recognize the divine orders either. The worst was in the Sheidak family. They were rich, but their older son, a freak, became a Bolshevik. When the police came for him, he was already on the Russian side of the border.
When the war began and the Russians came, these Jewish communists and several of ours came out with red flags. Two of these families, the poor ones, have made a welcome gate with flowers. The wealthy and religious Jews preferred to remain invisible.
This young Sheidak came with the Russians and immediately began introduce a new regime.
It was he who arranged the punishment of our teacher. The teacher was a Polish nationalist and always talked against the Jews and Bolsheviks. But to send him because of it to Siberia?!
The wealthy Jews were also afraid of Russians.
There was one particular. The name was Katz. Very rich. He owned a freight company.
He had even bought an old manor house, where he kept all his coachmen with their families.
When the Russians came, they nationalized all businesses. Katz, to be on the safe side took a job as a guard in his old company. He hid all his assets in their houses. They got an order to guard the room he had in each flat.
It was quite a story with his guard job. Once he took and ate a single cucumber from a cart, and one of the Russian saw it. They immediately accused him of stealing the state property and jailed him.
A warden came, and they made a public trial. Everyone in the village got an order to be present at the trial. The prosecutor shouted, "Because of such villains entire Soviet country suffers!".
And Katz got ten years of labor camp!
That is how it was with the Russians.
When the Germans came, they did it hard for the Jews.
They broke the legs of their rabbi and shot those who tried to intervene.
They told us that if we had any old scores with Jews, we could do what we pleased.
It was a hard time for the Jews. The cottages owned by Bolshevik families were burned down.
Most of the fun was with these wealthy Jews. They tried to get our parson to defend them.
But the parson shouted only at them and said he would not interfere in private quarrels.
The vicar just shook his head and said nothing.
No. There was no murdering of Jews in our village.
We had just helped to chase them when the Germans ordered Jews to leave for the ghetto.
I, along with other boys, chased and found those who tried to hide.
And yes. The people took all remained Jewish property. They did not need it anyway.
The coachmen went into these rooms of Katz.
They found money, property deeds, debt papers, and much more.
People enriched themselves with Jewish things.
The parson turned a blind eye to this because the whole village was involved, and he was lying sick.
Everything was on the vicar's head, and he was unhappy. His sermons in the church about the love of the neighbor were such powerful that one could feel the shivers passing the body.
But the people after they left the church did the same as before.
With all the troubles with the Germans and the partisans, no one cared about the sermon words.
Shortly after the war end Katz had appeared again!
He became upset when he saw his looted rooms.
Then he said that he wanted to inspect the rooms without witnesses.
The coachmen agreed at first. But when he came out from the first room, they caught him. And when they went him upside down, the gold fell on the floor!
He had some hidden boxes there! They tried to make him talk about other hiding places, but he did not want to say. Even when they started beating him. So they beated him harder.
The whole village heard it. Katz just screamed louder and louder but did not want to say anything.
Suddenly he stopped screaming, and nobody had seen him again after that.
The atmosphere in the village became very unpleasant. People were afraid to look at each other.
The vicar, after he took the people's confession, locked himself in the church and wept like a child.
And the next day told the parson that he was going to visit the diocese. When he came back, he was wearin civil clothes.
He said he could not be a priest anymore because he let God down.
Good Lord! How come?!
Because he let his flock turn against God's commandments.
Because he did not react when the village did not observe, "Love your neighbor as yourself". Because he looked at his parishioners when they, in terrible deceit, forgot about, "Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you", and did not react.
Because he never mentioned in his sermons that it also concerned their Jewish neighbors.
That is why he felt complicit in the murder of Katz and unworthy to be a priest.
In the diocese, they convinced him that if he did not lose his faith, he could serve him in a different way.
In this way, he found himself with the Capuchin Brothers.
And he stayed there until his death. 

Alex Wieseltier
April 2020

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